Understanding and Learning Cat Language

If you spend plenty of time with a cat you love, you will automatically develop the need to be able to interpret its language, which can be differentiated between verbal and non-verbal. The latter refers to the cat's body language and primarily the different positions of the tail.

Sometimes the assumption is that cats wish to express with almost every verbal and non-verbal statement that they would now like to be fed.

Fun aside, we will outline a few typical features of feline language in the following article.

If the cat holds its tail upright and bent slightly at the tip, you as the owner can only be congratulated for ensuring that your cat is in such a good way! The two of you are best friends and your cat is happy.

Happy cat upright tail

In contrast, if the cat nervously hits its tail against the ground, it may be in pain and a trip to the vet may be required, although not necessarily. Other signs need to be taken into account too in order to interpret feline body language.

  • If your beloved cat occasionally twitches its tail, this may indicate a certain degree of nervousness.
  • If the fur on your cat's tail is standing up in different directions, this means that your cat is either highly agitated or even feels threatened. Your cuddly feline friend wishes to give the impression of being bigger than it actually is in order to make presumed or actual adversaries flee.
  • If your cat's tail gently vibrates, this suggests that it is either cheerfully excited or waiting for something, such as a treat – who would have thought it? Or your beloved feline housemate is simply happy to see you. Probably because it associates this with the chance of getting a tasty tidbit.
  • If your cat is lying down on its front body and stretching both its back half and tail in the air, this is mostly a sign of extreme aggression and a highly self-defensive posture. However, you can reassure your cat by stroking it. You should always bear in mind when doing so that cats can be overstimulated if you stroke one spot for too long.
  • If your feline housemate is holding its tail at a low angle away from its body i.e. around 45°, this can indicate slight aggression or that the cat has just suffered a fright and is possibly currently checking to see if a friend or enemy is approaching.
  • By wagging its tail behind its back, the cat is checking to see if an enemy is stood behind it.
  • If the cat points its tail towards the floor, this is also a sign that it has just suffered a fright – or that it feels guilty about something.
  • If it clamps its tail between its paws, this means that it is scared of someone or something – whether justifiably or not. It points to insecurity or even slight submission. It can also be an indication of a sense of guilt, perhaps because the cat has done something that it knows won't be to the liking of its owner.
  • If your feline friend moves its tail from one side to another, it is probably annoyed, though it can also be an invitation to play. The surrounding context will inform you which of the two options is feasible.
black cat lying on bed

If your cat is feeling grouchy, you should simply leave it in peace until it is in a better mood. Should it wish to play though, you can entertain it with a suitable cat toy, like a cat danger pole or toy mouse.

According to experts, it is recommended to spend a quarter to a third of each day playing with your cat. If your cat pretty much spends it day sleeping and eating, it is most likely under-challenged, meaning it is probably not happy.

However, there are cats that are still fine despite their owners not playing with them as much as recommended due to a heavy workload or other commitments. If they get exercise and can pursue their natural instincts uninhibited, such as hunting outdoors in the wild, they are still stimulated even if you can't play with them for a large part of the day.

What does it mean if a cat rubs its nose against me?

The hypothesis behind this affectionate behaviour is that cats are almost “marking” humans they love with their own smell. What's certain is that this is very friendly behaviour towards humans.

cat rubbing its nose

What do cats' ears and eyes say?

In combination with wide-open eyes, attentively forward-facing ears mean that the cat is attuned to a game or chase.

If the ears are attentively pointing upwards and the cat's eyes are half-shut, this is a sign that the cat is satisfied and at rest.

If the cat's eyes are wide open and the ears are resting against the head at the same time, it is planning an attack and/or expressing fear.

upright ears cat hunting

What do the sounds mean that a cat makes?

Cats are able to make up to a hundred different sounds, which are divided into expressions of excitement, comfort and means of calling.

Verbal feline language is generally linked to body language. Often the sounds mask calls to humans to do something specific.

Kittens use sounds to keep contact with their mother, who likewise uses sounds to train her kittens, for instance, making the little ones aware of potential dangers through certain noises. What is known as the call to prey is the mother communicating to her kittens that she has found prey. This call increases in intensity depending on how big or dangerous the slain prey is.

kittens cuddling

This sound is derived from a noise that cats sometimes make when they have their favourite toy between their paws or slay a mouse and take it home to their human companions. It's a demand for the human to offer the cat praise for bringing them the prey, which is an expression of love and/or a statement such as “Look at what a great hunter I am!”. You'll be doing your beloved feline friend a big favour if you praise it for its success.

In contrast, typical meowing can be both a greeting as well as expressing a wish for a human to do something the cat wants from them. For instance, being stroked, entertained, cuddled or getting a treat.

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